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Friday, November 25, 2011

What If: Jesus Montero for Gio Gonzalez?

The New York Yankees need to add a starting pitcher, this is not a secret. And, they would love for that pitcher to be of the left-handed variety. Apparently, in baseball circles it is believed not only that the Yankees will try to add a lefty, but that they will succeed. The market, however, is slim for lefties, which has given rise to an interesting scenario: Jesus Montero for the Oakland A's' Gio Gonzalez.

New York has, sensibly, been protecting Montero. The soon-to-be 22-year-old catcher is one of the best hitting prospects in baseball, and has been considered off-limits, and rightfully so. I'll fill you in on his statistical accomplishments, but suffice it to say, he should not be brought off the top shelf for anything but elite talent.

Gio Gonzalez is a prize to be had. He is young, just 25 in 2011, and has been reliably good in his career, posting a 3.17 ERA over the last two seasons to go with a 3.72 FIP and a 3.95 SIERA. He has very good stuff and command, resulting in solid peripherals that should translate to any ballpark, and, perhaps most importantly, will not qualify for free agency until after the 2015 season.

I will state early on that I would not trade Jesus Montero for anything but an ace, and as good as Gonzalez is, I don't think he constitutes that. Still, Gonzalez might be the best starter on the market, and is still a very, very good pitcher. Besides, this is a hypothetical. Lighten up, would you?

What I have decided to do here is provide what would happen, in terms of value, to each player in his new home. In the coming six seasons, what will Montero do, versus what will Gonzalez do in the next four, because if they are traded one-for-one, that is essentially the deal: four of Gio for six of Montero.

Gonzalez is the easy one, because he has an established track record. He posted a 3.7 WAR in 2010, followed by a 3.6 in 2011 according to StatCorner and their handy batted-ball metrics. According to FanGraphs' WAR, he had a 3.5 last season. Because of Gonzalez' age (he might still be improving), 3.7 makes the most sense to me, so, what's four years of 3.7 wins? 14.8. Basically, the Athletics are offering up 15 wins.

What can Montero do, now? Most people know of his exploits in the minors. He's a career .308/.366/.467 hitter in the minors, and over the last two years, both at Triple-A, has collected 967 PAs at a .289/.351/.493 clip. He got a brief callup toward the end of this past season, and, for good measure, he posted an OPS of .996 in 69 PAs.

How does all of this translate to a MLB uniform, where predicting is concerned? Using this minor league equivalency translator, and Montero's 2010 stats (it was the better of his two seasons, which, considering his cup of coffee in 2011, I decided would be more useful), I can make him out to be a .250/.304/.429 hitter -- but I think it would be prudent to consider him capable of significantly greater things, even at this age. His average and on-base should be right around average (.275 and .335), with very good power (.425-.450). If he is a DH and accumulates 600 PAs, this amounts to approximately 6 batting runs above average.

Take those 6 runs, tag him with a -3 for baserunning and GIDPs, take a -14 for being a DH, then add your 19 replacement runs, and Montero is about a 1-win player. Many of the Yankee fans reading this (I know we have tons, of course), will be up in arms about this, but remember, DHs get nothing. David Ortiz had a 3.8 this season, and he did .309/.398/.550 -- Montero isn't David Ortiz. If you project a normal growth rate for a hitter of his talent (culminating in 25 runs as a hitter in his age 27 season), he accumulates 117 runs, or, 13 wins.

As a catcher, he is much more interesting. Montero is a notoriously bad catcher. He has led the International League each of the last two years in passed balls, with 23 over the two seasons. He can't really throw guys out, and has had CS% of just 23 and 20 in 2010 and '11. Not awful, but nothing to have any hope of him catching many guys at the big-league level. I'm trying to be fair when I say he would be a -15 fielder at the major league level as a catcher. He has a legitimate claim to the worst defensive catcher in the Show. But you don't come for the defense, do you?

If Montero was a catcher, you would have to believe he would get the bulk of the starts at catcher (say 130), and some significant time as a DH, ten games or so. What this gives us, over six years, is 165 runs, or 18 wins. Simply by being a catcher, Montero increases his value significantly, even if he is horrendous at it (and it would be tough for a guy to put up a -15 at any position for 6 straight years).

I don't know what Montero's future holds. He could, theoretically, catch, but the Yankees appeared to be weaning him off of that in 2011, and Oakland appears set with Kurt Suzuki. In any case, if you were to even the two out, you get... 15.7 wins. Ie: slightly more than the value of Gonzalez.

It's impossible to predict for 22-year-olds, but assuming that these predictions are anywhere close to true (it's the best we can do for accuracy), the Montero-for-Gonzalez swap is, if not one that should be done, deserves to be speculated about, in any case.

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